HTC One M8s review: great, affordable, still beautiful

90/100

WhistleOut
02 July 2015

The HTC One M8s is the fantastically-priced, wonderfully-built, terribly-named spiritual successor to 2014’s HTC One M8. It’s almost identical in every way with one very important deviation: it can cost as little as around two thirds the price, depending on what market you’re shopping in.

This is one of the best-value phones on the market. End of story. It's a mid-range handset that’s roughly identical to last year’s smash-hit, but for significantly less. You can’t really go wrong.

Design

To the naked eye, the M8s is physically identical to the M8's classic, beautiful unibody aluminium design. That’s a good thing. No plastic edges here; no fake chromed rims. Class all the way.

There are two main downsides to this opulence. The first is grip; both the M8 and the M8s are polished to the point of being slippery. The last thing you want in a delicate electronic device is an unsure hold, so caution is advised. You could always add a case, but that would cover up the beautiful build materials.

The second drawback is temperature. Aluminium is much better at conducting heat than plastic or glass. As such, any internal rise is quickly transferred to the phone casing, and then on again to your hand. This makes the phone feel hotter than it actually is; you absorb the heat yourself instead of it remaining in the device. It can cause some discomfort, especially if you’re trying to play games while the phone is charging. Overall, though, it wasn’t much of an issue.

On the bright side, we’ve found metallic HTC phones to be surprisingly durable in the past. We had a couple of close calls with both the M8 and One Mini 2 that could very easily have ended in disaster if the phone was made from anything but metal, but ultimately no damage was done. The same should hopefully be true of the M8s, although we’re not about to go ahead and test that assertion intentionally.

One small gripe of the overall layout is that the lock button is still located on the top. This is something we disliked about the M8 and M9, as it requires a certain level of finger gymnastics to operate on an already-slippery device. This time around it's a little more forgivable; the M8s' layout is a re-hashed design aimed at keeping prices low. Moving key elements of the build around is hardly conducive to keeping production cost at a minimum, but we'd like to see HTC move to side-mounted buttons ASAP.

Display and user experience

The M8s has the same 5 inch 1080p screen panel as the M8. This is what you should be looking for. Expecting anything more is out of the question if you want an affordable handset. Settling for less is selling yourself short.

Screen brightness is good but not great. In direct sunlight things can be a little hard to make out, but generally we had few problems.

Colours are vibrant without being gaudy, blacks are fairly inky and whites come through ok, albeit with a slight bluish hue we’ve come to expect from modern phones.

For this price, you’re unlikely to find a better display. It’s fast, responsive, sharp, and colourful.

The user interface (UI) is HTC’s Sense 6.5. This is the same UI found on the M8, but not the newer Sense 7 of the M9. Frankly, you’re unlikely to notice a difference. They're both elegant, minimalist UIs with similar aesthetics.

The important thing is that you can remove BlinkFeed – HTC’s proprietary News app – from your home menu.

HTC's other proprietary feature – Boomsound speakers – make a glorious return. If you listen to podcasts or music on your phone speakers regularly, the only other handsets on the market that can compete are the One M9 and original One M8. This is a great audio experience.

Speed and battery life

One of the few differences between the M8 and M8s lies in their CPU chipsets. The original M8 runs a quad-core Snapdragon 801 setup; the M8s comes packing an octa-core Snapdragon 615. Both have 2GB of RAM.

In theory the M8 should give you a bit more power, while the M8s has the advantage in energy efficiency.

In reality there’s very little noticeable difference once you have either device in your hand. The M8s is fast and smooth. Is it as fast and smooth as a current M9 flagship in 2015? No. How about the M8 from 2014? Pretty much. It feels like there’s a teensy bit more lag, but you’ll only notice it when you’re actively looking.

As for battery performance, on paper the M8s is the winner between it and the 2014 M8. The newer 64-bit octa core setup should provide better use of its charge. On top of that the battery is bigger, coming in at 2840mAh compared to 2600mAh of the original M8.

Again, this distinction is purely academic. Both phones will get you through a single day with moderate-to-heavy use, but no further. Nightly charging is required, and you probably won’t need to top-up during the day unless you decide to go on a gaming marathon on either device.

Camera

The One M8s 13MP camera is definitely a weak spot. That’s to be expected; HTC has been historically deficient in this area for a few years now. What is surprising is how close in quality it is to the One M8, given how much cheaper it is.

Pointing and shooting comes out with varying results. Just compare the image above, to the one below. Both were taken within minutes of one another.

Photos during the day often have a washed-out look thanks to the camera’s difficulty dealing with glare. Despite this, photos sometimes come out with a level of crispness and clarity we weren’t expecting.

Click to check out a similar photo to the one above, taken with the original HTC One M8.

Autofocus acquires targets fast, and the time between tapping the shutter button and image capture is very low; both always great attributes.

Night time shots are less-appealing, but we expected nothing spectacular in this price range.

Overall the camera is good but not great. In this section of the mid-range market it’s unfair to expect more than what the M8s offers. If anything, this is the best value for money shooter HTC has released since 2013. Just steer clear of night shots and watch out for that milky hue.

Verdict

The One M8s is a fantastic device for the asking price. It’s very slightly slower than the original One M8 when dealing with heavier-duty apps, but day to day performance is almost identical.

Battery life is about a day, which is neither impressive nor a problem, and the camera is more than passable.

Best of all, you get access to that stunning HTC One M8 design without paying full price.

As a bang-for-buck device, the HTC One M8s is by far one of the best phones we’ve seen in a long time. If you’re after a mid-range Android, definitely put this one on your list of handsets to check out very, very closely.


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